Saturday, August 5, 2000

After the Fact: Some Post-Convention Notes

Frist and Arnold have a heart-to-heart talk, the Don goes arty, and Harold Jr. catches a break.

Posted By on Sat, Aug 5, 2000 at 4:00 AM

*As Senator Bill Frist was being led toward the convention stage through the bowels of Philadelphia’s ComCast arena on Thursday night during Bush’s acceptance speech, he encountered Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, whose name had figured in vice-presidential speculation for weeks before Frist’s own name got some serious boosting late in the game. Ridge warmly congratulated the senator on getting an Ed-Flex plank into the party platform (as one of three platform committee co-chairs), and the senator responded with crediting its success to backing by Ridge.

Frist also encountered another celebrity on that backstage circuit-- Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor/bodybuilder who had had, more or less on the QT during the last year or so, a heart bypass operation. The two engaged in animated conversation about the operation, which had been performed by a friend of Frist’s.

Frist’s week owed much to the hard work of his staff who seemed to be deployed in combat mode, doing as much as the state party or the RNC to put out fires and round up credentials for Tennesseans.

”Tell him to keep on doing what he’s doing,” said Frist, when asked what advice he would give the apparently floundering Al Gore on how to run his campaign from this point on.

*Governor Don Sundquist was in a laid-back mode through most of the convention, while wife Martha functioned both as a columnist for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press and as what the governor calls “my cultural leader,” finding-- as did such other Tennesseans as Memphian Hardy Mays, the governor’s former legal adviser and chief of staff -- art galleries and the like in Philadelphia.

Martha Sundquist wrote a daily column, in longhand on a pad (doing it all herself, as both she and gubernatorial press secretary Beth Fortune, who sent on her copy, insisted) for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. The governor played things very loose at this convention, and at one point demonstrated to reporters his patented method of balancing his head in his palm so as to appear thoughtful while really sleeping. (Useful on the floor of the convention, the method had been learned during meetings in Nashville, Sundquist said.)

Martha had what she called the “dream day of my life” on Tuesday when the Sundquists lunched at Independence Hall with dignitaries ranging from Colin Powell to Howard Baker to Bob Dole to David Broder David Gergen. (Sponsor was American Philosophical Society.)

On the fact, frequently reported in Philadelphia this week as many times before, that statewide officials in Tennessee tend to end up vying for the presidency or vice presidency, Don Sundquist said: “Not me. I’m the only one here that doesn’t want anything.”

*John T. Williams of Germantown, the delegation’s oldest member and, hands down, its most beloved, celebrated his 89th birthday on Thursday and was presented with a cake at the delegation breakfast. “I’m about to catch up with Ronald Reagan,” said Williams, who once ran for Congress in what is now the 7th district and had a young dude name of Fred Thompson as his campaign manager.

* There was some grumbling among Tennessee delegates about the fact that the delegation was stranded way down in Wilmington, Delaware-- a thirty-minute drive from Philadelphia, at best, involving a detour past a long section of Interstate 95 under renovation - but there was general praise for the Sheraton Suites and the hotel employees, many of whom were decked out in orange-and-white UT-shirts, courtesy of the state party.

Other artifacts of Tennessee on display included a statue of Jack Daniels at the entrance to the hotel restaurant (furnished by the distillery). The hotel itself put up a Tennessee state flag outside and made sure that country music was played on the establishment's Muzak.

And, on the same day (Wednesday) that a controversy broke out over the interloping Harold Ford Jr.'s boast in Philadelphia that he could "get a denunciation" of Nathan Bed Forrest from Gore, the Sheraton Suites hotel restaurant had a big sign advertising "Black Forrest cake" (so spelled.)

*In the same week that a verbal slip almost stranded him on a positional limb vis-ˆ-vis Vice President Al Gore, 30-year-old U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. apparently got the good news that he will be the (or a) keynote speaker at the Democratic national convention. Commercial Appeal Washington bureau chief JamesBrosnan quoted Gore as referring to Ford as “a rising star” (which he patently is) and expressing a desire to “reach out” to young people. .

The news overshadowed the flap which had developed earlier in the week concerning a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Tennessee state capitol in Nashville. While appearing outside the Republican National Convention as part of a Democratic “truth team,” Ford had denounced what he termed the “hypocrisy” of GOP nominee George W. Bush in not condemning South Carolina’s official use of a Rebel flag. He was asked whether Gore should not condemn the bust of Forrest, a onetime slave-trader who later founded the Ku Klux Klan.

Ford then said he would be able to “get a denunciation” from Gore but later backed away from the boast, saying that Gore’s feelings were too well known to require a new statement. The vice president’s office had responded by saying Gore was on “vacation” and had never been asked about Forrest.

A day later, in the wake of a sizeable post-convention bump for rival George Bush, Gore was off vacation with, among other things, the news of Ford’s convention role. Nothing was said about Forrest. The veep apparently still wasn’t asked. Respond to Jackson Baker at: baker@memphisflyer.com

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